US silica court victory will protect millions

A US industry challenge to a new occupational silica rule has been rejected in its entirety by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals, in what unions have described as a huge victory. However, a spokesperson for the business lobby group the US Chamber of Commerce said it is reviewing the decision, “but we continue to believe that [federal safety regulator] OSHA lacks substantial evidence to support its rule.”

In the United States, more than 2 million workers currently are exposed to some level of silica. In 2016, OSHA published a final rule regulating workplace exposure to the dust, which can cause lung disease, cancer and other chronic health conditions.

The industry lobby had challenged the need for the new standard, whether it was technologically and economically feasible in some industries and its requirements for confidentiality in related medical tests. “We reject all of industry’s challenges,” wrote judges Merrick Garland, Karen Henderson and David Tatel.

In their decision, the judges noted that petitions to review the silica rule came from both industry and unions. “A collection of industry petitioners believes OSHA impermissibly made the rule too stringent and several union petitioners believe OSHA improperly failed to make the rule stringent enough.”

Richard Trumka, president of the US national union federation AFL-CIO, said the court ruling was a ‘huge victory’ for working people. “This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives,” he said in a statement. “The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations. The labour movement worked for decades to win these lifesaving measures, and we are proud to see these standards remain the law of the land.”

He added: “Now we must turn our efforts to making sure this standard is put into full effect, enforced and protected from further attacks so that workers are finally protected from deadly silica dust.”

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